Judge sealed exemplary damage award in Hurricane Ike trial to facilitate mediation

By David Yates | Nov 18, 2014

Following the conclusion of a Hurricane Ike trial, an exemplary damage award scored by the Mostyn Law Firm was sealed in order to facilitate mediation, says the Beaumont judge who presided over the trial

Last month, a jury found in favor of plaintiffs Rene Lampson and Justina Henriquez, levying a $400,000 verdict against National Security Fire & Casualty, plus a separate award of exemplary damages, which was sealed by Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court.

“The award was sealed to facilitate mediation,” said Judge Shuffield in a Tuesday interview. “It was not done to hide from the public or to shield the verdict. The verdict will come out.”

Judge Shuffield had ordered the parties into mediation on Nov. 6, court records show.

Since the case is still pending, Judge Shuffield said he could not go into detail, but did say the parties agreed to seal the award and the amount would come out following mediation, which is set for Dec. 3.

Through Mostyn attorney Gregory Cox, Lampson and Henriquez filed suit against National Security and Renee Snellgrove on Sept. 3, 2010, in Jefferson County District Court, alleging the defendants wrongfully denied the couple’s property damage claim after Hurricane Ike ravaged their Port Arthur home in 2008.

On Oct. 14 jurors found National Security knowingly failed to honor the terms of its insurance policy with Lampson and Henriquez, awarding the couple more than $166,000 in damages and finding the Mostyn Law Firm was entitled to $237,000 in attorney’s fees.

The award of exemplary damages was for fraud.

Judge Shuffield had bifurcated the question of exemplary damages to the jury at the conclusion of the trial and then sealed the amount of the award.

A week later, on Oct. 21, National Security and Snellgrove filed a motion to set aside the question of exemplary damages, arguing that it “is crystal clear the trial” ended when the jury awarded the plaintiffs $403,700.

Court records show that on Oct. 24 the plaintiffs filed a response to the motion to set aside, asserting the motion is untimely and without merit.

The parties will meet with mediator Bob Black, a Mehaffy Weber attorney, on Dec. 3. If mediation fails, the issue of the exemplary damage award would likely be taken before the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont.

Killeen is an attorney for the Houston law firm Killen & Stern.

Cox’s firm, the Mostyn Law Firm, has reaped hundreds of millions from suits filed against insurers after Ike pummeled Southeast Texas.

Case No. D187-954

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